Poor voice types and how to fix them – part 4

In this post, we are going to look at some of the more subtle and complex vocal issues and how to solve them, from choking at random to forgetting the sound of your natural voice.

The glottal attacker

Does your voice ever crack randomly, suddenly feel sore for no particular reason, or perhaps you feel a slight spasm in your throat and break into a random choking fit? This could be an issue with your glottis, an opening which lies just below the epiglottis, the little flap of muscle which stops food from falling into your windpipe. If you do find yourself randomly choking, it’s probably just a build up of mucus, it’s always worth consulting with a doctor beforehand!

You can identify the glottis by saying the vowel sounds in ‘uh-oh!’. When you do this, you will feel your vocal cords open and close abruptly, leaving a small amount of pressure built up behind them. This is often referred to as a ‘glottal attack’. A glottal attack is unavoidable in everyday speech as it’s part of almost every language. Unfortunately however, aggressive glottal attacks can cause vocal cord inflammation, leaving you with a sore throat even after a short time of speaking.

The most notable clients I work with who have vocal pain issues have strong glottal attacks. The words ‘at’, ‘cat’ and ‘tat’ are excellent examples of glottal attack words. If you attempt to say them in a quick, staccato manner you can imagine what damage this constant attacking could do to your voice on a daily basis! Recent studies have shown it only takes two minutes of aggressive glottal speech to cause the vocal cords to become bruised or inflamed.

Solution

Oddly enough, having a soft glottal attack gives you a smooth voice! As previously mentioned under the post concerning ‘pained speakers‘, affecting a silent ‘h’ to the beginning of glottal words is a beneficial way of training yourself out of these bad habits. Practice saying vowel sounds by attaching a ‘h’ sound to the front of them for a few minutes each day to train yourself to be less vocally aggressive:

  • (h)a
  • (h)e
  • (h)i
  • (h)o
  • (h)u

The contortionist

A trait often found in thespians is the exaggerated movement of the mouth and lips when reciting their lines. On stage, this is often mandatory as their un-amplified voice needs to carry to the back of an auditorium and remain clear and precise. Others have the habit of speaking only from one side of the mouth, perhaps due a childhood paradigm stemming from stress, stutters or similar. This also occurs if a speaker is suffering from bells palsy.

If you find you are speaking from one side of your mouth by tugging your cheeks, you will struggle to enunciate your words clearly. Thankfully, this issue can be improved, but remember even the most professional of speakers won’t be able to mirror each side of their lips when they speak!

Solution

Look at yourself in the mirror and first identify which side of the face the muscles are most unbalanced. Do you perhaps chew your food on one side of your face, or smile at a certain angle?

Ideally it would be best to begin to over-enunciate words slowly and meticulously when practicing to build muscle tone and eradicate past habits. A simple exercise would be to methodically repeat the vowel sounds ‘A E I O U’ in a slow and steady manner trying to even the balance between your lips. Do this for five minutes, twice a day, every day, as often as possible until you notice a more balanced and natural movement of the lips.

To shorten the time spent practicing, you could invest in a Morrison Bone Prop, or better yet (but more expensive) a Facial-Flex which was originally developed to help stroke and facial burns victims restore balanced muscular control. I’ve used them both and consider them the finest products on the market for improving enunciation!

The unnaturally pitched

I am sure you have heard someone who is noticeably forcing the pitch of their voice to either artificially high or low levels. Not only does this sound unnatural but it is also potentially damaging to the vocal cords!

Just as any muscle should never be constantly tensed, the vocal cords also require moments of rest and relaxation. By artificially changing the pitch of your voice you are not only unconvincing, but you are also liable to develop painful and damaging vocal polyps or nodules which can only be removed via invasive surgery.

The trait of speaking in an artificially deep voice is commonly found amongst teenage boys or voice acting newbies who wish to sound more mature than their voices would suggest. Women who affect a higher pitched tone have also expressed they felt as if their natural voice needed to be more ‘feminine’, making them choose to increase the pitch of their voice for the majority of the day – leading to vocal injury. It’s important to remember that nature never intended you to force your voice-box to move when you speak for long periods of time. Secondly, if you have been forcing your voice to an altered pitch for a long period of time, you may have forgotten your natural tone! Try the solution below to help regain control of your voice.

Solution

Imagine you were agreeing with someone by saying the words ‘uh-huh’. The ‘uh’ is often vocalised at the lowest relaxed pitch you can produce without any extra effort, whereas the ‘huh’ is placed at just above your natural speaking pitch. Repeat the ‘uh-huh’ phrase several times, ensuring you do not artificially change the pitch of your voice. Then, move to humming from the lowest to the highest pitch, trying to keep the volume level throughout via diaphragmatic breathing. By practicing this for a few minutes each day over a period of two to four weeks, you should eventually establish a natural speaking pitch – just below the ‘huh’ part of this exercise.

There are many more of these lessons, along with a comprehensive diction improvement guide available in: Speak and Be Heard – 101 Vocal Exercises for Voice Actors, Public Speakers and Professionals. Richard Di Britannia also offers private online voice coaching and free consultations on building vocal strength and confidence via his contact form 🙂

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